Albania – Several arrested after opposition protest turns violent, while others are on the run

Tirana Protest Albania Opposition Violent Scaffolding
Opposition protesters attempt to bring down the scaffolding protecting the PM office in Tirana's main boulevard

Tirana, Albania | 18 Feb 2019 (Tirana Echo) – 15 people have been arrested while 7 others are on the run following a massive opposition protest on Saturday which turned violent with several supporters attempting to break into the PM office.

Thousands of protesters assembled by the Democratic Party and its smaller opposition allies marched through Tirana’s main boulevard on Saturday, calling for the resignation of socialist prime minister Edi Rama whom they accuse of being corrupt and linked to criminal groups.

DP supporters broke police lines and threw petrol bombs and other hard objects towards the PM office, later bringing down the scaffolding intended to protect the main entrance doors. Although a handful of protesters broke the door glass, they failed to enter inside the building.

According to Albania’s Police Department, people arrested are from the towns of Tirana, Kavaja, Divjaka, Shkodra, Durrë, Elbasan and Fier. Among them, police have also arrested former director of Tirana’s mayoral police force Florenc Hoxha, following proof provided by video-surveillance footage taken during the protest.

Investigators have said the number of arrests is expected to grow today as analysis of video surveillance footage is currently underway by prosecutors and police specialists.

Despite the measures taken, Albania’s main opposition party has said it will continue protests until the overthrow of Edi Rama’s corrupt government.

During his closing speech at the protest, Democratic Party Chairman Lulzim Basha said that everyone saw the strength of Albania’s united citizens, decisive in refuting a corrupt government with a thief as its prime minister.

On behalf of the opposition, I want to thank all citizens who gave a voice to our protest. Let us swear today that this uprising will continue until the overthrow of Rama. The protest continues Thursday  at 10am.” said a defiant Basha who invited people to join opposition MPs in front of the plenary hall of the Albanian parliament on Thursday morning.

The United States, the European Union and other international institutions had called on the opposition to hold a peaceful rally and later condemned the violence displayed by some of its supporters.

The European Union Delegation and Member States Embassies in Tirana issued an immediate statement as the protest was ongoing, calling on all sides to show immediate restraint.

The right of the citizens to express themselves through peaceful protest is a core value of a modern European democracy. However, damaging public property and resorting to violence are not acceptable.  We urge all sides to do their utmost to avoid further violence and disruption.” said the EU.

In a similar condemnation the US Embassy in Tirana issued a statement, calling on all parties to show restraint and refrain from violent acts.

The United States Embassy strongly condemns the violence and destruction taking place during today’s protests in Tirana. We uphold the citizens’ right to peaceful protest, but the damaging of public property and violence are not acceptable. We urge all parties to show better restraint and restore calm. We call on all political parties to renounce these acts and to take all necessary steps to ensure that the situation becomes peaceful and constructive.” read the US statement.

Commenting after the protest, Prime Minister Edi Rama who has refused to bow down to opposition requests, condemned the violence and said he was saddened by the negative portrayal of the violent acts by foreign media.

The blind policy of an opposition without vision, without a programme and without leadership, did nothing to the government, but damaged Albania across the world and gave reasons to celebrate to all those who are against us starting membership talks with the EU.” wrote Rama on Twitter.

Albania hopes to formally start membership talks with the EU later this year, however, member states have conditioned negotiations on tangible progress in the fight against corruption, organized crime and a steady progress of its milestone reform of the justice system.

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